Karl-Heinz Rummenigge successfully led FC Bayern as CEO for almost two decades. After retiring from the German record champions, the 66-year-old has now commented on the pressing questions about the club: How do the people of Munich feel about investors? Why were there no alternatives to the expensive extensions with Joshua Kimmich and Co.? And how is Rummenigge’s relationship with the new FCB boss Oliver Kahn?
Mr. Rummenigge, you haven’t been the CEO of FC Bayern Munich for seven months. Have you ever had withdrawal symptoms?
Karl Heinz Rummenigge: My life has of course changed. It’s less exciting, less stressful. When I stopped in the middle of last year, I went to my favorite island of Sylt for eight weeks to counteract possible withdrawal symptoms. That was a good recipe. The summer there was extremely beautiful. And since I have a very large family that has been visiting us little by little, it turned out to be a really good decision.
Of course I continue to follow football. I also follow FC Bayern, watch every game, but more relaxed. I’m still emotionally involved, but all on one level, so I’m not that upset anymore. I made a self-determined decision that I wanted to retire a little earlier than planned. I felt that it was a better time to retire in the summer and leave my successor in charge of the entire season and not just half.
You were at the helm of FC Bayern for 20 years. Based on your experience, can you understand the abrupt resignation of managing director Max Eberl at Borussia Mönchengladbach? Has the pressure on the decision-makers in football – in Corona times – increased again?
The pressure in football has always been great. Corona has caused financial damage. And that has consequences for board members or sports directors. You have to deal with it. You have to be very careful on the transfer market, especially when it comes to salaries, dealing with agents and players who still don’t want to accept that the market has changed, especially in Germany. In the 20 years as CEO at Bayern Munich, I have not only experienced sunshine. You have to have a thick skin in this business. Uli Hoeneß and I always conveyed that to the outside world. But I know what it means when you lose a game in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Then the weekend was over.
As you said, you made room for your successor, Oliver Kahn, a little earlier. What do you think: How does he want to align FC Bayern? He’s hardly going to just want to continue your course, is he?
When you start anew, you have to modernize and realign things a bit without giving up the tried and tested. This is probably the most important job Oliver has. We look back on ten years that were incredibly successful for Bayern Munich – both sportingly and financially. We were a role model in European football. Holding this position has become more difficult – especially due to Corona. But also because of society, which has changed and may have become more critical of football.
What are you up to?
I base this on the fact that fan groups are more critical of football. You didn’t just feel that at Bayern Munich at the most recent annual general meeting. We are at a point where we have to seriously discuss: Quo vadis German football? Of course, it’s great for Bayern if they’re probably going to win the German championship for the tenth time in a row. But that’s not good for the topic of emotion in football and in the Bundesliga. I recommend taking a look beyond the borders, to England for example. In Germany we tried to sit out some things for years. This inevitably leads to problems, both nationally and internationally.
Rummenigge: I don’t want to be a know-it-all
Are you still in regular contact with Oliver Kahn?
I don’t want to appear as a know-it-all and give him advice. We have a respectful and good relationship. He has to go his own way. That will also include making mistakes, and when in doubt you have to allow him that.
The Champions League starts in the knockout phase. Of the 16 clubs in the round of 16, four come from England, three from Spain, two each from Italy, France and even Portugal – but only one from Germany. Is that a snapshot or something more?
Both. Last year, all four Bundesliga teams were in the round of 16. But a negative trend is discernible. We can talk ourselves into the Europa League with four more German participants. But the great football takes place in the Champions League. Only Bayern Munich is there – and hopefully for a long time.
What are the reasons for the downtrend?
The reasons always lie in the quality factor. And it also has to do with finances. Although I have to say: Dortmund’s exit from the Champions League was a surprise for me. The group with Ajax Amsterdam, Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas Istanbul seemed feasible to me. On the other hand, it was clear from the start that VfL Wolfsburg and Leipzig in particular would have a hard time in a group with the two big calibers Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
Who is your favorite to win the title?
Bayern Munich played the best group phase with six wins again. The team works well. Nevertheless, that doesn’t have to mean anything. In the Champions League you have to completely rethink the knockout system. You have to approach every game with great concentration and have a little bit of luck. Everything has to fit, just like when we won the title in 2020. Everything was spot on. The team was in top form, their character outstanding. And Hansi Flick had prepared the final tournament in Lisbon in a world-class manner. A year ago, on the other hand, we were unlucky to lose to Paris Saint-Germain because the earth-shattering international match between Poland and Andorra, in which Robert Lewandowski was injured, had taken place beforehand. Then other injured players like Serge Gnabry, Niklas Süle and in the second leg Leon Goretzka were missing against PSG. So everything has to fit. I also recommend humility. All clubs in the round of 16 did not qualify by accident.
Rummenigge: Nagelsmann has the “FC Bayern style”
Humility probably goes well with Bayern opponents Red Bull Salzburg, right? Getting ahead is considered a mandatory task.
Of course, Bayern Munich is the big favourite. But Salzburg prevailed as runners-up in the group against a club like FC Sevilla. I recommend treating Salzburg very respectfully. Then Bayern Munich will of course move into the quarter-finals. But I predict: Bayern Munich will not be arrogant, not with these players and not with this coach.
Robert Lewandowski, the currently injured goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller are still the leaders at FC Bayern. The discovery of the season so far is a mature Leroy Sané. Will he now take the matriculation test to become a top European star in the knockout phase of the Champions League?
When we signed Leroy in 2020 we put a lot of faith and money into him. It may have taken him the first year. Not so much because of his cruciate ligament injury before. He had to get out of his comfort zone a bit. What happened earlier this season, with the whistles from the fans, the criticism from the pundits, was helpful. Apparently that was a wake-up call for him along the lines of: ‘I have to change things and also fulfill the expectations of the club and the talent that God gave me in the cradle.’ Now he fulfills them. The whole club is happy, he is happy. He’s become a completely different player. He participates in the game in a completely different way. He’s often lived a wallflower existence on the right winger for the last season. Now he wants the ball. Not only is he fast and dangerous in front of goal, he is also a strong runner and helps out in defence.
Despite being only 34, is Julian Nagelsmann already a coach who has the Champions League winning format like Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool FC), Hansi Flick (Bayern Munich) and Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea FC), the German winners in the past three seasons?
I have a positive impression of Julian Nagelsmann. He had to follow in very big footsteps that Hansi left him with seven titles in 14 months. But he didn’t let that bother him. He has adapted the FC Bayern style, which has endured since Louis van Gaal, to fit his philosophy. And our team demands exactly that from a coach.
Rummenigge defends expensive extensions at Bayern
At FC Bayern, despite the corona losses, there is no mess. If you look at the recent contract extensions with Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka or Kingsley Coman, then the stars’ salaries only know one direction – up.
Counter question: What would have been the alternative? Not agreeing with the players and then losing them? That can’t be the solution. The club have focused on renewing with the players they absolutely need. And the market is the way it is. It’s a problem for everyone, including Bayern Munich.
Is the Super League project, spearheaded by clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Juventus Turin, off the table? Or has it just disappeared into the drawer temporarily?
The Super League was due to financial problems. Right from the start, the whole topic gave the impression that someone had knitted it together under great time pressure with a very hot needle. It is no coincidence that the Spanish and Italian clubs that took part suffered the greatest financial hardship. The subject is off the table. There will never be a privately organized Superleague again. The benchmark in club football is the Champions League. For me, the founders were the greatest visionaries.
The German Football Association and the German Football League are currently repositioning themselves at the top. What do you trust the new DFL managing director Donata Hopfen and Dortmund boss Hans-Joachim Watzke as head of the league’s supervisory board? What are your most pressing tasks?
I don’t know Ms. Hopfen personally yet. She has big footsteps ahead of her that Christian Seifert left behind. He did a great job, especially in times of Corona. Aki (Watzke), on the other hand, is a rested, experienced football manager. The most important task – not only of the two, but of the Bundesliga – will be to ensure the international competitiveness of the German clubs and at the same time bring about more national competition again. You need money for both. A redistribution from top to bottom will weaken rather than strengthen the Bundesliga at the top. That’s why my approach to the 50+1 rule is different from that of numerous other protagonists in the league.
Bayern Munich and you advocate opening up the Bundesliga clubs to investors?
If you look at the development of English football, or the development of Paris Saint-Germain, where were these clubs 10, 15, 20 years ago? Where are you today? They are all much more competitive. Manchester City was only third rate at the turn of the millennium!
Personal details: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, born on September 25, 1955 in Lippstadt, was CEO of FC Bayern München AG from 2002 to mid-2021. Previously he was Vice President. The treble wins in 2013 and 2020 also fell during his tenure. As a world-class striker, he won several titles with FC Bayern during his professional career. He also played for Inter Milan and Servette Geneva. With Germany he was second in the World Cup twice (1982, 1986) and in 1980 European champion.